Article 43

 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Kiss Home Ownership Good-Bye

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“The transformation of thousands of single homes into corporate rentals is a new business model”
- Steven Rosenfeld - Billionaire Speculators’ Greed Makes Life Hard For Renters and Would-Be Homebuyers

US Rents Hit Record Highs As Homeownership Plunges To 18 Year Lows

By Tyler Durden
Zero Hedge
July 30, 2013

The American HOMEOWNERSHIP Dream is officially DEAD. Long live the New Normal American Dream: Renting.

According to the latest quarterly homeownership data RELEASED BY THE CENSUS BUREAU, the raw homeownership rate of 65.0% was unchanged from last quarter and 0.4% lower than a year ago. And on a seasonally adjusted basis (not sure why homeownership is adjusted for seasons: people who live in a house in the winter generally live under a bridge in the summer?), the percentage of Americans who have a house declined from 65.2% to 65.1%: the lowest since 1995.

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Obviously the flipside to most “children” in their mid-30s still living in their parents’ basements is that those wishing to brave the New Normal world will have to spend a lot for rent.

A record lot in fact: the median asking rent for US vacant housing units just hit an all time high of $735 per month.

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The pain is most acute for those renting in the Northeast, where the median rent soared by $65 to a record high of $961. What is perhaps more notable is that the median rent in the Northeast (the financial capital of the US), is now decidedly above the median asking rent in the West (traditionally the entertainment and entrepreneurial capital of the US).

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So rents are soaring. Which should mean that so are wages and/or personal income right? Wrong.

Presenting the ANNUAL CHANGE in real US wages…

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And the 5 year change in Personal Income.

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So how sustainable are the soaring rents shown above? We will let Blackstone and all those other Wall Street firms capitalizing on record low (until recently) rates to become America’s largest landlords answer that one.

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Wall Street Unlocks Profits From Distress With Rental Revolution

By Heather Perlberg and John Gittelsohn
Bloomberg
December 20, 2013

On a rainy night in November, Mark Futral, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, approached a white ranch house in Flowery Branch, a northeastern suburb of Atlanta, crowbar in hand.

He adjusted a headlamp and slid his fingers under a front windowto lift it open. His dog Bella, a 40-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, barreled through and Futral followed, squeezing into an empty room with tan carpet peeling from the floor. It was the sixth home hed broken into that day.

Though he’s occasionally mistaken for a thief, Futral, 37, is working for Blackstone Group LP (BX), one of the worlds most sophisticated investors. For the past 18 months, he’s picked locks, shimmied under garage doors and crawled through windows to get into foreclosed homes the company has bought.

The locksmith is a cog in a machine assembled by Blackstone to build a rental-home empire across the U.S. In less than two years, the New York-based firm has bought 41,000 properties, most out of foreclosure, in 14 metro areas to become the largest landlord of single-family residences in the country. Its hired more than 10,000 plumbers, leasing agents and lawyers to transform a mom-and-pop business into one of Wall Street’s hottest investments.

“We call ourselves the first responders,” said Futral, a 6-foot-1-inch, Acworth, Georgia, native with close-cropped brown hair. “Some houses kind of get you teary-eyed because it looks like there’s still an imprint of a body in the bed. You know, theres coffee in the pot on the counter, almost like people are still living there.”

Blackstone Vanguard

Blackstone is at the vanguard of a historic move to centralize the business of renting single-family houses in the U.S. after the real-estate crash, which left in its wake more than 7 million foreclosed homes and families lacking the credit to buy again.

Investors from multibillion dollar hedge funds to individuals buying as few as 10 properties have acquired more than 1 million homes in the past three years. Most started out paying cash; now, as the bet on rental housing turns into an industry, big landlords are benefiting from access to financing at a time when banks remain reluctant to lend to homebuyers, putting ownership out of reach for many Americans, especially blacks, Hispanics and people under 40.

“Early buying by investors actually did serve a public purpose” by soaking up vacant foreclosed homes, said Thomas Lawler, a former Fannie Mae (FNMA) economist who in 2005 warned of a housing bubble fueled by easy credit and a shift toward treating homes as investments rather than shelter.” Now it’s just free-market capitalism and big money is coming in because they have an advantage. Is that good? Well, its gone from being good to being disturbing.”

High Stakes

The stakes are high for the more than 100 million Americans who live in rented homes. It’s yet to be seen to what extent national landlords, with easy access to capital and loans, can keep outbidding first-time homebuyers, depriving families of the opportunity to build wealth, and what their impact on rents will be. There is a potential for investors to keep driving up property prices and set the stage for another housing bust. More immediately, there’s limited evidence available showing distant owners can fix broken plumbing and keep the homes in good repair.

The new landlords are already making their impact felt. Bloomberg News reported in August that Blackstone and other corporate investors were turning away low-income tenants on government housing assistance. Blackstone called it a miscommunication at the call center. In October, Bloomberg reported that a hedge fund, Magnetar Capital LLC, had quietly bought 1 out of every 11 homes in the Ohio town of Huber Heights and then pushed for property-tax cuts that would have blown a hole in the school districts budget.

Feeding Ground

Atlanta is the biggest feeding ground right now after home prices fell 40 percent during the crash and foreclosures were among the highest in the nation. Investors including Blackstone, American Homes 4 Rent (AMH) and Colony Capital LLC bought almost one in three properties sold in the area in September.

Tha’s keeping Futral and his team at Final Hardware Installers busy. A fitness equipment company he runs has taken a backseat as he cruises Georgias suburbs in his gray Ford pickup, entering about 10 properties a day to change locks for Invitation Homes, Blackstone’s division responsible for buying, renovating and renting.

“Nowadays, I get more work orders than I can do every day,” said Futral. “I make over six figures a year just breaking into houses.”

Hectic Times

For Futral, the most hectic time is the week after county foreclosure auctions, held on the steps of Georgias courthouses on what’s known as Super Tuesday each month. The biggest single-family landlords send teams bearing stacks of cashiers checks ready to outbid locals.

This month, on a chilly morning outside the Gwinnett County courthouse northeast of Atlanta, the influence of mammoth landlords was on display. A team from AZ Bidder LLC, a company hired by Blackstone to buy properties, erected a control center under a white tent as auctioneers spaced yards apart called for offers on foreclosed homes in neighborhoods from Sugar Hill to Snellville.

About 20 Blackstone representatives monitored smartphones and tablets to track properties that fell within price and location guidelines.

Winning Bidder

Blackstone contractor Jamica Bell sat in a folding chair and munched on pizza as she eyed her phone and listened to the auctioneer reeling off addresses and prices. She raised a hand or nodded her head to signal offers, winning every time on more than a dozen properties with prices as high as $227,000 for a five-bedroom home in the town of Dacula.

“When we show up, the other bidders there say, Oh my gosh, I was hoping you were going to be sick today,” Bell said after the auction.

The 43-year-old freelance writer, who also oversees home renovations, said she found the job through a friend who saw it on Craigslist. She had one training session and earns about $40 an hour. The first time working an auction, Bell said her team ran out of money after spending $6 million by 4 p.m. and needed another $6 million to pay for all the properties bought that day. She said itҔs not uncommon for her to spend about $3.5 million of other peoples money, gathered by Blackstone from investors including pension funds, college endowments and wealthy individuals.

“I cant believe that people earn a living doing this,” said Bell. “It’s easy, its fun, it’s one day a month.”

Robert Gilstrap, an Atlanta-area property investor for 21 years, said he’s shocked by the cash being thrown around. “It’s like Monopoly money,” he said. “You cant compete.”

So Profitable

Heres why. Blackstone is the worldҒs largest manager of alternative assets such as hedge funds and real estate, with $248 billion under its control. The business is so profitable it has made founder Stephen Schwarzman worth more than $10 billion. For his 60th-birthday party in February 2007 at the cavernous Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, a guest list of 500 was entertained by rock star Rod Stewart. Four months later, Schwarzman sold shares in Blackstone to the public just before the stock market began its historic collapse triggered by the end of the housing boom.

Money managers have turned to single-family homes after prices fell 35 percent nationally from their 2006 peak and plunged more than 50 percent in markets including Phoenix, Las Vegas and Miami. The properties offer yields of about 10 percent a year from rental income and the opportunity to profit from rising real-estate prices when the homes are eventually sold. Funds set up by Blackstone and others are attracting money from investors seeking higher returns as short-term interest rates are close to zero.

Immense Opportunities

With single-family rentals representing more than 10 percent of the housing market, the investment and lending opportunities are immense and perhaps just beginning,ғ said Jade Rahmani, an analyst with investment bank Keefe Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Wall Streets success depends on unprecedented demand for rentals from American families who lost homes and renters who want to buy but have been blocked from getting mortgages as banks restrict credit after lax lending contributed to the real-estate bust. The U.S. homeownership rate, which soared to a record 69.2 percent in 2004, is at 65.3 percent, almost back where it was two decades ago.

Minority Declines

Minorities and young people have seen the sharpest declines. The homeownership rate for black Americans is about 43 percent, down from 50 percent before the crash. With investors racing to purchase properties, American families who typically need mortgages have had fewer opportunities to buy at the same sharply discounted prices.

ԒHomeownership remains the most important mechanism by which people build wealth in this country, said Carolina Reid, an assistant professor who specializes in housing at the University of California at Berkeley. ӔParticularly for communities of color and low-income families, its basically the only way they build wealth.Ӓ

Most investors accumulating multiple homes are paying in cash, which means they can outbid and outmaneuver buyers like Rick Cartagena. The 36-year-old painter moved his family of five in 2010 from San Francisco, one of the most expensive markets in the country, to Phoenix, where he expected lower home prices to give him a shot at owning.

Phoenix Attracts

He wasnt prepared for the competition. Phoenix, where property values dropped 56 percent from their 2006 peak, was one of the first cities to begin attracting Wall Street-backed investors, who found streets lined with cookie-cutter stucco homes, preserved by the dry desert climate.

The house Cartagena is now renting was bought by an investor for $52,000 in August 2011, public records show, down from the last sale of $194,336 in 2006. Of the 24 homes on his block, all built in 2006, only four still belong to the original owners and one was slated for auction last month, according to Maricopa County property records. The rest, adorned with tidy rock gardens sprouting cacti and succulents in front yards, were lost to foreclosure.

Investors, including Blackstone, Colony and Progress Residential LP, have bought half the homes on the block.

Cartagena is paying $950 a month to rent the three-bedroom house. He estimates it would cost him about $200 less a month—including taxes, insurance and homeowner association dues—to buy a place for $120,000, the going price for homes in his neighborhood. When he puts in bids, though, investors go higher.

Gaining Control

He made offers on four homes in 2011 and 2012 and gave up trying this year after losing out to cash buyers who weren’t slowed by having to qualify for a mortgage. Cartagena said owning a house would allow him to control monthly payments and save for the future by building equity.

“I can’t compete with all the investors, Cartagena said, standing in his driveway,” his denim jeans speckled with white paint. “They jacked up all the prices.”

Home values in Phoenix have increased 43 percent since hitting bottom in September 2011, one of the biggest gains in the country, according to S&P/Case-Shiller data.

David Schweikert, an Arizona Congressman, said investors have done a service to local neighborhoods, beautifying properties and providing more housing opportunities to residents. Not everyone should own, said the 51-year-old Republican. He started investing in homes to rent in 2008 and at one point had a stake in almost 1,000 properties before running for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, he said.

Different Mindset

“One of the things that created the collapse in 2008 was the arrogance of saying, Everyone should be a homeowner,” Schweikert said. “People move jobs and residences. It was a 1950s, 1960s mindset being pushed through policy in a population that was living differently.”

Republicans largely blame the U.S.-backed mortgage finance firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and government policies for inflating the bubble, while Democrats emphasize Wall StreetԔs role creating exotic investments that funneled risky loans such as subprime mortgages to people.

Schweikert said frustrated potential buyers arent being blocked from owning, just from the screaming deals.

“The person who offers the best price gets it,” he said. “Thats actually how a market is supposed to work.”

Obama Praises

President Barack Obama in August also praised institutional investors for helping to stabilize real-estate values. Investors, or those with at least 10 properties, have bought 1.18 million homes in the past three years, according to RealtyTrac. While thats a fraction of the 14 million-home rental market, the biggest landlords are targeting houses that have similar characteristics in many of the same neighborhoods, hundreds of miles from their corporate headquarters.

Purchases by the same companies that bought on CartagenaҒs street in Phoenix are reverberating in Rosebud Park, a Snellville, Georgia, neighborhood where thin grassy patches separate two-story dwellings covered in brick and vinyl siding.

A haven for first-time homebuyers when construction started in 2005, Rosebud Park has become a magnet for investors creating expansive leasing businesses. About one in four houses is now a rental, including at least 15 newly-built properties owned by Colony.

Anique Toussaint was driving out of the neighborhood to get her son from school one afternoon in late October, past the new homes clustered on stretches of land. She was hoping more families would buy in the subdivision, which was left unfinished when a builder went bankrupt. Instead, she was shocked to see “For Rent” signs on lawn after lawn.

Seeing Shift

Investors including Blackstone and Progress, also based in New York, own about 20 other homes in the neighborhood that theyve begun renting out.

“We’ve seen the shift from the time we first moved in here from 2009 to now,” said Toussaint, 30, a stay-at-home mom from Brooklyn, New York. “The neighborhood is already declining.”

Many of the renters in Rosebud Park dont comply with association rules, said Toussaint, a member of the homeownersԒ board. They park in the narrow streets, blocking school buses and garbage trucks. Her neighbors complain they hear teenagers outside in the middle of the night, and trash from fast food restaurants is left on the ground.

Homeowners are more likely than renters to do neighborhood maintenance, get involved with community groups and vote with greater frequency, according to a September research paper by Edward Coulson, an economics professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Improving Communities

By pouring money into properties that would have otherwise been left vacant, firms including Blackstone and Colony say theyre improving communities, and helping families rent quality houses in neighborhoods with good public schools.

In their buying binge, the largest landlords are leaving the most depressed areas virtually untouched. About 30 miles from Rosebud Park, the community of Pittsburgh in Atlanta is riddled with dilapidated properties partially hidden behind grass growing wild. About 40 percent of the homes are vacant, sealed off with wooden boards on windows.

Neighborhoods attracting the greatest investment in AtlantaҒs northern suburbs are home to more moderate- to higher-income families, where theres a greater opportunity to make money quickly, said LaShawn Hoffman, CEO of the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association.

“They have to make good business decisions,” Hoffman said. “But part of what we need are patient investors, so for my neighborhood, their model doesnt necessarily work.”

Blackstone Mastermind

The central figure in Wall Streets move into owning American homes is Jonathan Gray, BlackstoneҒs head of real estate. The 43-year-old is already a billionaire, thanks to his success in building Blackstone into a real-estate powerhouse. In 2007, he masterminded the $26 billion purchase of Hilton Hotels Corp. (HLT) The investment was massive even for a private-equity firm, which buys businesses using money raised from investors, debt offerings and bank loans.

Gray, who said Blackstones model is Ғbuy it, fix it, sell it, sold shares of Hilton to the public this month, generating a paper profit of $8.5 billion, one of the largest in history for a buyout firm.

He began examining the U.S. housing landscape in 2011, when prices and sales were still falling three years after the financial crash.

Delinquent Mortgages

Government efforts to help homeowners with delinquent mortgages failed to stem the tide of foreclosures. Banks seized an average 101,500 homes a month from delinquent borrowers in 2010 and 77,000 a month the next year, according to Lender Processing Services Inc. The disaster for banks and neighborhoods spoiled by abandoned homes seemed like an opportunity for Blackstone.

“We were looking across all these markets and just seeing all the distressed housing inventory and the complete lack of new construction,” Gray said.

He wasn’t the only real-estate titan eyeing the opportunity to profit from the collapse.

Across the continent in Malibu, California, where Hollywood celebrities and corporate tycoons have beachfront retreats, B. Wayne Hughes was trying to figure out his next move. The son of a sharecropper, Hughes had become a billionaire selling storage space in warehouses to Americans. After 40 years, hed stepped down from running his company, Public Storage (PSA), and was spending more time on his stud farm in Kentucky.

Malibu Billionaires

Another Malibu resident, Thomas Barrack Jr., the founder of Colony, also was looking at housing.

The two talked on the phone and met for lunch.

“Hughes had tremendous conviction and put a tremendous amount of his own money into his business,” said Barrack, whose $20 billion investment firm owns Neverland Ranch, the former home of late pop star Michael Jackson and a stake in film company Miramax. “That gave me conviction we were on the right path.”

Hughes created American Homes 4 Rent and Barrack set up Colony American Homes, now the second- and third-biggest single-family landlords in the country.

Blackstones Gray was equally confident that single-family rental housing was an opportunity worth pursuing. He just hadn’t figured out how to manage homes scattered across the country.

That’s where Englishmen Nick and Peter Gould came into the picture. The brothers had started buying houses to rent in London in the early 1990s after a housing-market crash. They went on to become one of the biggest landlords in the U.K., and started a U.S. company to manage apartments.

Bigger Opportunity

In December 2011, Nick Gould stumbled on an opportunity that reminded him of London—only bigger. He was in California driving to inspect a building southeast of Los Angeles when his car had a flat tire. He stopped in the middle of a housing tract in Riverside County, ground zero for AmericaӒs foreclosure crisis. Instead of boarded-up homes and streets strewn with tumbleweed, he found freshly mowed lawns where children played outside houses that were nearly new.

A man dashed out of a house and shouted Youғre too late, Gould recalled. The man told him that a home near his car once worth $270,000 had just sold at auction for $90,000. Other properties were coming up for auction at similar prices.

“There was just crazy value here,” Gould, 55, said. “I could see how the market was going to progress. It was like watching a remake of a movie. You know the story. You’re just watching a different version, the 2011 version of a 1990 film.”

Weeks later, Gould flew to Manhattan and found a willing accomplice in Gray—a man with the largest checkbook in real estate seeking a partner with experience in the home-rental business.

Getting Started

Blackstone and the Goulds got going at the beginning of 2012, around the same time as Hughes and Barrack. Starting in Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas, the firms helped alter the course of the U.S. housing market, putting a floor under prices and sparking a feverish race to buy properties.

Blackstone was spending as much as $150 million a week buying homes, Gould said, even as the company was still figuring out how to handle the properties, some of which had families or squatters in them and others that were deteriorating.

To build a single-family rental business, Blackstone applied the same techniques as when it takes over a corporation. It bought in bulk, getting construction materials from Home Depot Inc. (HD) and appliances from General Electric Co. At one point, the firm was probably the largest contractor in the U.S., Gould said.

Clustered Purchases

Blackstone and other large landlords have clustered their purchases in many of the same zip codes. Still, organizing renovations and repairs is a logistical challenge. It takes two months on average to fix houses after purchase and another two months to fill them with tenants, according to Gray.

Once people move in, toilets get clogged, air conditioners break, tenants miss payments.

Some residents complain the service is poor. Alexandria Anderson, a Blackstone renter in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, said the company couldnt repair a broken refrigerator for a week. A pipe burst a few weeks after Ida Bolt rented a Blackstone house in AtlantaҒs Grant Park neighborhood, spawning mildew on the walls that she feared would sicken her 3-year-old daughter. It took a couple of weeks for crews to install new drywall and carpeting and suck out the moisture with dehumidifiers. Bolt, whose rent is $1,500 a month, said she has put in about 20 work orders for other problems that havent been addressed.

“I dont think they have the staff or the networks yet to manage all the houses,” she said.

Growing Pains

Gould attributed those difficulties to the growing pains of a new company that has so far spent $7.8 billion buying homes. In October, Blackstone hired Gary DeLapp, the former head of the Extended Stay hotel chain, to be president of Dallas-based Invitation Homes. Theyve now leased about 72 percent of the properties, and 95 percent are occupied within two months of renovation, according to Blackstone.

The business depends on people like Marcus Oliver and his sister, who have been renting a three-bedroom house from Invitation Homes since March. The Olivers lost their previous home in Alpharetta, Georgia, bought for $144,800 in 2005, after falling behind on the mortgage when Marcus OliverҒs work in construction dried up.

Blackstone bought the home in February on the Gwinnett County courthouse steps for $110,300, about $33,300 less than the Olivers debt on the house, after JPMorgan Chase & Co. foreclosed.

Invitation Visit

Oliver, leaning over the banister of his porch, spoke softly about a visit by a woman from Invitation Homes, who knocked on the door of his old house about nine months earlier. She gave him a choice: Rent the home back, for $1,295 a month—or move in 30 days.

“They wanted to charge rent from the day they bought the house, without renovating or anything,” he said. He decided to move.

Blackstone spokeswoman Christine Anderson said Invitation Homes tries to offer former owners rental opportunities. The company has leased to 5,000 occupants of homes theyҔve purchased and evicted 2 percent, she said.

The Olivers relocated in March and now pay Invitation Homes $1,150 a month to live in a three-bedroom ranch house with a grassy backyard in Snellville, 25 miles from their old place.

After everything he went through, Oliver said hed still like to own again, and maybe even buy the house he’s currently leasing—if he can ever qualify for a mortgage.

Creating Bonds

Getting a loan hasnt been a problem for Blackstone. Even before buying its first rental home, the investment firm opened talks with Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) to raise money for its purchases. The Frankfurt-based lender gave Blackstone a $600 million credit line last year and then rounded up other lenders to add more than $3 billion.

Blackstone is already tapping investors for a major new source of funds for its single-family home empire. In October, the company held a presentation at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York to sell $479 million of bonds. To meet the interest payments on the debt, Blackstone will collect monthly payments from 3,207 homes, including the one leased by the Olivers. According to deal documents, the firm bought the properties for $444.7 million and after renovations and other costs spent a total of $542.8 million. Those homes are already valued at $638.8 million, 18 percent higher than their outlay.

The bonds Blackstone is selling equal 75 percent of the properties’ current value, allowing the firm to recoup its initial investment and repay part of the bank credit line.

Different Rates

Investors can buy six versions of the debt with different interest rates depending on the level of risk and the priority the bonds are repaid.

Moodys Investors Service gave the largest portion of the bond its Aaa rating, signaling it considers the debt as creditworthy as the U.S. government. The blessing opened up the investment to insurance companies, pension and mutual funds with trillions of dollars to invest. It also helped Blackstone borrow more cheaply with the combined interest rate of about 1.9 percent. A homeowner taking out a 30-year mortgage that week would have gotten a 4.1 percent rate.

The financing technique goes back more than three decades, when investment bankers started to package, slice, and sell home loans, a process known as securitization.

The creation of a rental home bond has triggered concern that Wall Street is re-inventing the same tactics that crippled the financial system five years ago.

“We understand there’s a lot of sensitivity because of Wall Street’s hand in the housing collapse,” Gray said during an interview. “But this is very different.”

Offering Loans

Within weeks of BlackstoneҔs bond sale, Colony and American Homes 4 Rent announced plans to create their own securities backed by rental payments from properties theyve bought.

Now the biggest landlords are seeing yet another way to make money from single-family home rentals. The same firms that have dominated buying of homes to rent, including Blackstone and Colony, are pitching a new line of business—offering loans to smaller landlords with as few as five houses.

Danny Kattan said Colony and Blackstone this month proposed giving him loans on 450 rental homes his company has bought in South Florida over the past four years. That was a big turn from just six months earlier, when Kattan said nobody wanted to finance him because managing so many scattered properties was seen as too risky.

Lending to smaller landlords opens up the potential for millions of rental homes to be financed and then packaged into bonds. The market for the securities may grow to $920 billion over the next six years, according to Keefe Bruyette & Woods.

Needs Monitoring

Economists at the Federal Reserve already are flagging the potential for danger. While financing for rental homes is still in its infancy, the growth needs to be monitored for signs it could damage financial markets, Raven Molloy and Rebecca Zarutskie said in a report this month.

Regardless of the broader financial impact, homeownership is moving out of reach for less affluent borrowers, whose lack of savings for down payments keep them out of the mortgage market, said Roberto Quercia, professor and chair of the city and regional planning department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The American dream of owning a home has impacted the national character since the time of the founding of this country,” Quercia said. “Traditionally, homes have been, for low-income families, the one and only source of wealth to transfer to kids. And thats really at risk.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Heather Perlberg in New York at hperlberg at bloomberg.net; John Gittelsohn in Los Angeles at johngitt at bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Urban at robprag at bloomberg.net

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Wall Streets Frightening New Plan To Become America’s Landlord

By Alan Pyke
Think Progress
January 24, 2014

Anyone who has ever struggled to get her landlord to fix a broken appliance can imagine how much worse it could have been if she were paying rent to a faceless hedge fund based thousands of miles away. That tenants nightmare may be on its way to reality for hundreds of thousands of Americans, as Wall Street firms have snapped up 200,000 family houses with the intention of renting them out.

Banks, hedge funds, and private equity firms have been amassing those real estate holdings for a few years now, but their plan for wringing profit out of the rental market is just starting to draw real scrutiny. The New York-based hedge fund Blackstone Group is now THE NATION’S LARGEST LANDLORD after purchasing over 40,000 foreclosed family homes for the purpose of renting them out.

While firms like Blackstone often farm out the day-to-day management of the rental properties to third-party companies, those intermediaries are often also based in faraway states. Some have a track record of being UNRESPOSIVE TO BASIC THINGS like broken sewer pipes, as the Huffington Post has reported. The banks and their intermediaries may neglect basic upkeep of these properties. In that worst-case scenario for renters, local and attentive property managers and building supers will get replaced with Wall Street-based “absentee slumlords,” in David Dayens phrase.

On-the-ground concerns for communities and renters go beyond neglect, however. The rising influence of financial titans turned local landlords could threaten all sorts of public services. In the case of Huber Heights, OH, the hedge fund Magnetar Capital has become the largest landlord in the whole town and is using that influence to try to extract lower property tax charges from the town - a change that would undermine funding for schools and other public services for locals, but boost the bottom line of the Illinois-based financial giant. (Magnetars dodgy past dealings from the subprime era also underscore an unsettling dynamic to Wall StreetҒs entry into the rental market: the same companies that helped turn homeowners into renters through mass foreclosures are now preparing to make even more money off of the same rental demand they helped create.)

But firms like Blackstone arent just renting the homes, of course. The real money for the firm is in turning the rent payments it will receive from those 40,000 units into financial products called securities that it can sell to other investors. The practice could prove to be a broadly beneficial way to allocate scarce housing resources җ or it could mirror the casino culture that turned the subprime bubble into an economy-wrecking conflagration.

With Wall Street buying up hundreds of rental properties and turning them into the same sort of complex investment products that caused the last financial crisis, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) thinks Congress has a responsibility to hold hearings and monitor the very new and potentially risky practices of this class of investor-landlords.

Proper oversight of new financial innovations is key to ensuring we donӒt go down the same road of the unchecked sub-prime mortgage backed security, and create an unsustainable bubble that will wreak havoc when it bursts, Takano wrote Thursday in a letter to House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA). Magnetar staff declined to comment on TakanoԒs letter and Blackstones rental-backed securities.

Takano is right to worry that BlackstoneҒs new process of securitizing rent payments and selling them to all sorts of other investors puts the broader economy at risk. When Blackstone premiered its rental securities in November, it was able to get three credit ratings agencies to say that they are perfectly safe investments. But those agencies gave that same AAAӔ stamp of approval to mortgage-backed assets that proved toxic in the last crisis. A fourth ratings agency, Fitch, was far more wary of Blackstones big new idea. Citing the ғlimited track record of the idea and the untested nature of BlackstoneԒs landlord-cum-investment seller business model, Fitch said it was too soonӔ to rate the firms security offering AAA.

That caution seems warranted. As Bloomberg explained in a thorough infographic, any significant problems in the rental housing market could quickly turn an investment in BlackstoneҒs scheme into a financial disaster. And it wont just be other well-heeled financial companies that buy up this new set of rent-backed investment products, either. Pension funds, educational endowments, and other major institutional investors who rely on solid returns on their investment portfolio in order to fulfill promises to workers and students tend to get left holding the bag when financial schemes like this one go bad.

And problems in the rental housing market may be inevitable given that rents are rising far faster than family incomes. Nationwide, the number of people who face unaffordable rent prices is at an all-time high. A report put together by TakanoҒs staff demonstrates the shift from homeownership to renting amid rising rental costs within his Riverside County district. One third of all renters in Takanos district spend more than half of their income on rent, a far higher rate than what financial professionals say is sustainable. The national rate is similar, the report says, with about 12 million of the nearly 41 million renter households nationwide paying more than half their income in rent. The median annual rent for TakanoҒs constituents is up $756 since 2007, but their median income remains about $5,500 below what it was prior to the crisis another phenomenon that is common to the country as a whole.

Rents are rising in part because the years-long foreclosure crisis has meant that there are far more people in need of rental housing after having lost their homes. Thanks to that same foreclosure wave, hedge funds and private equity firms have been able to buy up 200,000 family homes at fire-sale prices, many of them in the Inland Empire zone of central California where Takanoגs district lies. Citing these and other facts, Takanos letter calls for a HFSC hearing to review developments in the rental housing market.

On top of the broader market factors driving rents up and keeping incomes from recovering, the supply of affordable housing is getting literally torn down as the housing industry focuses on building properties meant for middle- and high-income occupants. Given the building crisis in affordable housing and the impending threat of neglect from AmericaҒs new, inexperienced landlords, Takanos call for oversight should be harder to ignore than the typical call to police Wall Street.

But a hearing on Wall Street investment schemes may be a tough sell given Chairman Hensarling’s past statements and actions with regard financial industry oversight, but the more localized damage that hedge fund landlords could do to individual renters on the ground might be more persuasive to the bank-friendly Texas Republican.

SOURCE

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Bye Bye Middle Class: The Rate Of Homeownership In The United States Has Hit The Lowest Level Ever

By Michael Snyder
The Ecoinomic Collapse Blog
July 28, 2016

The percentage of Americans that own a home has fallen to the lowest level ever recorded.  During the second quarter of 2016, the non-seasonally adjusted homeownership rate fell to just 62.9 percent, which was exactly where it was at when the U.S. Census began publishing this measurement back in 1965.  This is not what a |recovery” looks like.  All throughout the Obama years, the percentage of Americans that own a home has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller.  The reason for this, of course, is that the middle class in America is dying.  Last year, we learned that middle class Americans now make up a minority of the population for the first time ever.  In order to have a high rate of homeownership, you need a thriving middle class, and you cant have a thriving middle class without good paying middle class jobs.  This is why I writeabout the evisceration of the middle class so extensively, because the U.S. economy is systematically being hollowed out and most Americans don’t understand what is happening.

image home ownership 1965 - 2016

Traditionally, owning a home has been a sign that you have arrived as a member of the middle class, but under Barack Obama the percentage of Americans that own a home has fallen every single year.  In the past, we have talked about how it had fallen to the lowest level in decades, but now it has officially fallen to the lowest level ever.  The following comes FRON CNBC

After rising just over a decade ago to its highest level ever, the nation’s homeownership rate fell to match its all-time low and could drop even further in the months to come.

In the second quarter of this year, the rate fell to 62.9 percent, not seasonally adjusted, which is the same as it was in 1965, when the U.S. Census started tracking the metric. During the epic housing boom in the mid-2000s, the rate soared as high as 69.2 percent. That was when politicians touted the so-called “ownership society.”

So why is this happening?

Well, ACCORDING TO WOLF RICHTER analysts are blaming many factors

· Rising home prices in an economy of stagnant wages (for the lower 80%) have pushed entry-level homes out of reach for many people.

· Lower priced homes in many urban areas entail a huge and costly ($ and time) commute every day. And even then, these homes may be too much of stretch for big parts of the population in expensive urban areas.

· First time buyers are having trouble saving for a down payment since they spend their last available dime to meet soaring rents.

· Millennials have been blamed. They always get blamed for everything. They saw their parents deal with the American Dream as it turned into the American Nightmare, and they learned their lesson early in life.

· The super-low interest rate environment hasn’t made homes more affordable because home prices, in response to super-low interest rates, have soared, and in the end, mortgage payments are higher than they were before.

· Higher home prices entail other costs that are higher, including taxes, brokerage fees, and insurance.

Certainly all of those points are legitimate, but the truth is that what we are facing is much broader than all of that.  The middle class in the United States has been dying for decades, and in recent years the long-term trends that have been slowly eating away at the middle class like cancer have accelerated significantly.  Just consider these numbers

-In America today, nobody has a job in ONE OUT OF EVERY FIVE FAMILIES.

-At this moment, 102 MILLION WORKING AMERICANS DO NOT HAVE A JOB.

-According to the Social Security Administration, 51 PERCENT of American workers currently make less than $30,000 a year.

-In 1970, the middle class brought home approximately 62 percent of all income. Today, that number has plunged to just 43 percent.

-The Federal Reserve says that 47 percent of Americans could not pay an unexpected $400 emergency room bill without borrowing the money from somewhere or selling something.

- One recent survey discovered that 62 percent of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.

- If you currently have no debt and you also have ten dollars in your pocket, that gives you a greater net worth than about 25 percent of all Americans.

- According to Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, the authors of a book entitled “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America,” there are 1.5 million “ultrapoor” households in the United States that live on less than two dollars a day.  If you can believe it, that number has doubled since 1996.

- Back in 2007, approximately one out of every eight children in America was on food stamps. Today, that number is one out of every five.

- Things continue to get worse for the middle class as we head into the second half of 2016.  Gallup’s U.S. economic confidence index just hit the lowest level so far this year.

I could keep quoting numbers at you all day, but hopefully you are getting the picture.

The middle class in America just keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and our politicians just keep on conducting business as usual.  They dont seem to care that they are strangling the life out of what was once the largest and most thriving middle class in the history of the planet.

And things could soon get much worse for the middle class as this new global economic crisis accelerates.  In fact, highly respected economist Peter Schiff believes that a major downturn in the U.S. IS IMMINENT҅

HERE IS THE REALITY: The world has caught on, and the gig is up. Under Obama’s stewardship, the U.S. national debt has gone from $10 Trillion, to what will be $20 Trillion by the time he leaves office, with nothing more than 100 MILLION Americans out of work, and 50 MILLION in poverty and on food stamps. That’s what cheap money bought for us. It was all “borrowed” cheap money too, making it infinitely worse, and the world is tired of lending.

There are so many families out there that are really struggling right now, and MORE THAN TWO-THIRDS of all Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track.

I would like to tell you that happy days are here again and that the best times for America are just around the corner, but unlike the politicians at the Republican and Democratic national conventions, I am not going to lie to you.

Very rough times are coming, and things are going to get much harder for the middle class.

Plan accordingly, and get prepared while you still can.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

What It’s Like To Be Long-term Unemployed

image: unemployed MBA

By Robert J. Samuelson
Washington Post
July 27, 2016

Columnists get complaints. After my most RECENT COLUMN (which argued that maybe the economy is better than we say), I got one from Alice Lang of Spartanburg, S.C. She accused me (politely) of ignoring the LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED, of which she is one. After our conversation, I asked her to put her thoughts in an email. Here’s what she wrote, slightly edited. It’s a powerful counterpoint for me and, I think, for readers. (Note: Lang, an advocate for the long-term unemployed, made similar complaints to a Forbes columnist in 2015.)

Dear Mr. Samuelson,

I don’t think you fully understand what it is like to be a well-educated American who has been shut out of the economy. Unfortunately, there are thousands like me who have been unable to restart careers after the Great Recession and are facing frustration and DESPAIR as long-term unemployment drags on and on.

I am 54. My background includes a Master’s degree in history and a Certificate in Teaching English as a second language [ESL]. I have worked as a journalist and was an ESL instructor for five years at a local college before my job was downsized in 2014 due to budget cuts. Since then, I have been unable to find full-time work, even though I have been diligently networking and applying for jobs. I currently writea monthly business column for The Spartanburg Herald-Journal (for free) about employment issues and also writecontracts to try to stay solvent.

Although I agree that our economic expectations were raised during the 1990s boom, I DON’T THINK IT IS A FALSE EXPECTATION for Americans to want good paying, full-time jobs. Unfortunately, many of the 14 million jobs created [since the employment low-point], which you mention in your column, are low-wage, part-time service jobs which are not what people need in order to support themselves and their families. In Spartanburg, very few white-collar jobs have been created. Instead, the new jobs are in fast-food restaurants and distribution centers, which are popping up everywhere due to our low cost of land.

Every day, I read articles from national newspapers, and I am continually dismayed and angered by journalists that accept without question the government statistics of glowing successes in job creation. Whatever happened to investigative journalism? Why aren’t reporters looking beyond the statistics to the thousands of real people STILL SUFFERING from long-term unemployment?

The anger driving this election cycle comes from voters in financial distress. The media is misinformed when they state that only blue-collar workers and uneducated people supported the anti-establishment candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. People in the middle class, who are being pushed into poverty, also supported them.

I care deeply about long-term unemployment because I know first-hand the DAMAGE IT INFLICTS on a person’s health and well-being. I am very concerned that none of our LEADERS WILL ADMIT to the severity of the issue. In past recessions, having a college degree gave one an edge to get back to work. This time, members of the well-educated middle class have been left on the sidelines. As one of the long-term unemployed, I can tell you that we feel voiceless and invisible.

It’s hard not to be moved. But it’s also worth remembering that the employment situation has improved. The basic statistics are these: In June, there were nearly 2 million workers who had been unemployed for more than 27 weeks the usual definition of “long-term” joblessness, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was about a quarter of the 7.8 million unemployed. Both figures were down from their peaks. In April 2010, the long-term unemployed totaled 6.8 million, about 44 percent of the 15.3 million then unemployed. Still, THE NUMBERS are meaningless if you can’t find a job.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Republican Redux 17

image: republican brain

Understanding Trump

By George Lakoff
Common Dreams
July 22, 2016

There is a lot being written spoken about Trump by intelligent and articulate commentators whose insights I respect. But as a longtime researcher in cognitive science and linguistics, I bring a perspective from these sciences to an understanding of the Trump phenomenon. This perspective is hardly unknown. More that half a million people have read my books, and Google Scholar reports that scholars writing in scholarly journals have cited my works well over 100,000 times.

Yet you will probably not read what I have to say in the New York Times, nor hear it from your favorite political commentators. You will also not hear it from Democratic candidates or party strategists. There are reasons, and we will discuss them later this piece. I am writing it because I think it is right and it is needed, even though it comes from the cognitive and brain sciences, not from the normal political sources. I think it is imperative to bring these considerations into public political discourse. But it cannot be done in a 650-word op-ed. My apologies. It is untweetable.

I will begin with an updated version of an earlier piece on who is supporting Trump and why - and why policy details are irrelevant to them. I then move to a section on how Trump uses your brain against you. I finish up discussing how Democratic campaigns could do better, and why they need to do better if we are to avert a Trump presidency.

Who Supports Trump and Why

Donald J. Trump has managed to become the Republican nominee for president, Why? How? There are various theories: People are angry and he speaks to their anger. People donגt think much of Congress and want a non-politician. Both may be true. But why? What are the details? And Why Trump?

He seems to have come out of nowhere. His positions on issues dont fit a common mold.

He has said nice things about LGBTQ folks, which is not standard Republican talk. Republicans hate eminent domain (the taking of private property by the government) and support corporate outsourcing for the sake of profit, but he has the opposite views on both. He is not religious and scorns religious practices, yet the Evangelicals (that is, the white Evangelicals) love him. He thinks health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, as well as military contractors, are making too much profit and wants to change that. He insults major voting groups, e.g., Latinos, when most Republicans are trying to court them. He wants to deport 11 million immigrants without papers and thinks he can. He wants to stop Muslims from entering the country. What is going on?

The answer requires a bit of background.

In the 1900s, as part of my research in the cognitive and brain sciences, I undertook to answer a question in my field: How do the various policy positions of conservatives and progressives hang together? Take conservatism: What does being against abortion have to do with being for owning guns? What does owning guns have to do with denying the reality of global warming? How does being anti-government fit with wanting a stronger military? How can you be pro-life and for the death penalty? Progressives have the opposite views. How do their views hang together?

The answer came from a realization that we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative).

What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families.

In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they are in charge of. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they dont prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others - who are responsible for themselves.

Winning and Insulting

As the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, said,

“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” In a world governed by personal responsibility and discipline, those who win deserve to win. Why does Donald Trump publicly insult other candidates and political leaders mercilessly? Quite simply, because he knows he can win an onstage TV insult game. In strict conservative eyes, that makes him a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate. Electoral competition is seen as a battle. Insults that stick are seen as victories deserved victories.

Consider Trump’s statement that John McCain is not a war hero. The reasoning: McCain got shot down. Heroes are winners. They defeat big bad guys. They don’t get shot down. People who get shot down, beaten up, and stuck in a cage are losers, not winners.

The Moral Hierarchy

The strict father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, America above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.

We see these tendencies in most of the Republican presidential candidates, as well as in Trump, and on the whole, conservative policies flow from the strict father worldview and this hierarchy

Family-based moral worldviews run deep. Since people want to see themselves as doing right not wrong, moral worldviews tend to be part of self-definition - who you most deeply are. And thus your moral worldview defines for you what the world should be like. When it isnt that way, one can become frustrated and angry.

There is a certain amount of wiggle room in the strict father worldview and there are important variations. A major split is among (1) white Evangelical Christians, (2) laissez-fair free market conservatives, and (3) pragmatic conservatives who are not bound by evangelical beliefs.

White Evangelicals

Those whites who have a strict father personal worldview and who are religious tend toward Evangelical Christianity, since God, in Evangelical Christianity, is the Ultimate Strict Father: You follow His commandments and you go to heaven; you defy His commandments and you burn in hell for all eternity. If you are a sinner and want to go to heaven, you can be “born again” by declaring your fealty by choosing His son, Jesus Christ, as your personal Savior.

Such a version of religion is natural for those with strict father morality. Evangelical Christians join the church because they are conservative; they are not conservative because they happen to be in an evangelical church, though they may grow up with both together.

Evangelical Christianity is centered around family life. Hence, there are organizations like Focus on the Family and constant reference to ԓfamily values, which are to take to be evangelical strict father values. In strict father morality, it is the father who controls sexuality and reproduction. Where the church has political control, there are laws that require parental and spousal notification in the case of proposed abortions.

Evangelicals are highly organized politically and exert control over a great many local political races. Thus Republican candidates mostly have to go along with the evangelicals if they want to be nominated and win local elections.

Pragmatic Conservatives

Pragmatic conservatives, on the other hand, may not have a religious orientation at all. Instead, they may care primarily about their own personal authority, not the authority of the church or Christ, or God. They want to be strict fathers in their own domains, with authority primarily over their own lives. Thus, a young, unmarried conservative - male or female may want to have sex without worrying about marriage. They may need access to contraception, advice about sexually transmitted diseases, information about cervical cancer, and so on. And if a girl or woman becomes pregnant and there is no possibility or desire for marriage, abortion may be necessary.

Trump is a pragmatic conservative, par excellence. And he knows that there are a lot of Republican voters who are like him in their pragmatism. There is a reason that he likes Planned Parenthood. There are plenty of young, unmarried (or even married) pragmatic conservatives, who may need what Planned Parenthood has to offer - cheaply and confidentially by way of contraception, cervical cancer prevention, and sex ed.

Similarly, young or middle-aged pragmatic conservatives want to maximize their own wealth. They don’t want to be saddled with the financial burden of caring for their parents. Social Security and Medicare relieve them of most of those responsibilities. That is why Trump wants to keep Social Security and Medicare.

Laissez-faire Free Marketeers

Establishment conservative policies have not only been shaped by the political power of white evangelical churches, but also by the political power of those who seek maximally laissez-faire free markets, where wealthy people and corporations set market rules in their favor with minimal government regulation and enforcement. They see taxation not as investment in publicly provided resources for all citizens, but as government taking their earnings (their private property) and giving the money through government programs to those who don’t deserve it. This is the source of establishment Republicans anti-tax and shrinking government views. This version of conservatism is quite happy with outsourcing to increase profits by sending manufacturing and many services abroad where labor is cheap, with the consequence that well-paying jobs leave America and wages are driven down here. Since they depend on cheap imports, they would not be in favor of imposing high tariffs.

But Donald Trump is not in a business that makes products abroad to import here and mark up at a profit. As a developer, he builds hotels, casinos, office buildings, golf courses. He may build them abroad with cheap labor but he doesn’t import them. Moreover, he recognizes that most small business owners in America are more like him American businesses like dry cleaners, pizzerias, diners, plumbers, hardware stores, gardeners, contractors, car washers, and professionals like architects, lawyers, doctors, and nurses. High tariffs don’t look like a problem.

Many business people are pragmatic conservatives. They like government power when it works for them. Take eminent domain. Establishment Republicans see it as an abuse by government government taking of private property. But conservative real estate developers like Trump depend on eminent domain so that homes and small businesses in areas they want to develop can be taken by eminent domain for the sake of their development plans. All they have to do is get local government officials to go along, with campaign contributions and the promise of an increase in local tax dollars helping to acquire eminent domain rights. Trump points to Atlantic City, where he build his casino using eminent domain to get the property.

If businesses have to pay for their employeesג health care benefits, Trump would want them to have to pay as little as possible to maximize profits for businesses in general. He would therefore want health insurance and pharmaceutical companies to charge as little as possible. To increase competition, he would want insurance companies to offer plans nationally, avoiding the state-run exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges are there to maximize citizen health coverage, and help low-income people get coverage, rather than to increase business profits. Trump does however want to keep the mandatory feature of ACA, which establishment conservatives hate since they see it as government overreach, forcing people to buy a product. For Trump, however, the mandatory feature for individuals increases the insurance pool and brings down costs for businesses.

Direct vs. Systemic Causation

Direct causation is dealing with a problem via direct action. Systemic causation recognizes that many problems arise from the system they are in and must be dealt with via systemic causation. Systemic causation has four versions: A chain of direct causes. Interacting direct causes (or chains of direct causes). Feedback loops. And probabilistic causes. Systemic causation in global warming explains why global warming over the Pacific can produce huge snowstorms in Washington DC: masses of highly energized water molecules evaporate over the Pacific, blow to the Northeast and over the North Pole and come down in winter over the East coast and parts of the Midwest as masses of snow. Systemic causation has chains of direct causes, interacting causes, feedback loops, and probabilistic causes often combined.

Direct causation is easy to understand, and appears to be represented in the grammars of all languages around the world. Systemic causation is more complex and is not represented in the grammar of any language. It just has to be learned.

Empirical research has shown that conservatives tend to reason with direct causation and that progressives have a much easier time reasoning with systemic causation. The reason is thought to be that, in the strict father model, the father expects the child or spouse to respond directly to an order and that refusal should be punished as swiftly and directly as possible.

Many of Trumpגs policy proposals are framed in terms of direct causation.

Immigrants are flooding in from Mexico build a wall to stop them. For all the immigrants who have entered illegally, just deport them ח even if there are 11 million of them working throughout the economy and living throughout the country. The cure for gun violence is to have a gun ready to directly shoot the shooter. To stop jobs from going to Asia where labor costs are lower and cheaper goods flood the market here, the solution is direct: put a huge tariff on those goods so they are more expensive than goods made here. To save money on pharmaceuticals, have the largest consumer the government ח take bids for the lowest prices. If Isis is making money on Iraqi oil, send US troops to Iraq to take control of the oil. Threaten Isis leaders by assassinating their family members (even if this is a war crime). To get information from terrorist suspects, use water-boarding, or even worse torture methods. If a few terrorists might be coming with Muslim refugees, just stop allowing all Muslims into the country. All this makes sense to direct causation thinkers, but not those who see the immense difficulties and dire consequences of such actions due to the complexities of systemic causation.

Political Correctness

There are at least tens of millions of conservatives in America who share strict father morality and its moral hierarchy. Many of them are poor or middle class and many are white men who see themselves as superior to immigrants, nonwhites, women, nonChristians, gays and people who rely on public assistance. In other words, they are what liberals would call דbigots. For many years, such bigotry has not been publicly acceptable, especially as more immigrants have arrived, as the country has become less white, as more women have become educated and moved into the workplace, and as gays have become more visible and gay marriage acceptable.

As liberal anti-bigotry organizations have loudly pointed out and made a public issue of the unAmerican nature of such bigotry, those conservatives have felt more and more oppressed by what they call ԓpolitical correctness ԗ public pressure against their views and against what they see as free speech.Ӕ This has become exaggerated since 911, when anti-Muslim feelings became strong. The election of President Barack Hussein Obama created outrage among those conservatives, and they refused to see him as a legitimate American (as in the birther movement), much less as a legitimate authority, especially as his liberal views contradicted almost everything else they believe as conservatives.

Donald Trump expresses out loud everything they feel with force, aggression, anger, and no shame. All they have to do is support and vote for Trump and they donגt even have to express their politically incorrectђ views, since he does it for them and his victories make those views respectable. He is their champion. He gives them a sense of self-respect, authority, and the possibility of power.

Whenever you hear the words political correctnessӔ remember this.

Biconceptuals

There is no middle in American politics. There are moderates, but there is no ideology of the moderate, no single ideology that all moderates agree on. A moderate conservative has some progressive positions on issues, though they vary from person to person. Similarly, a moderate progressive has some conservative positions on issues, again varying from person to person. In short, moderates have both political moral worldviews, but mostly use one of them. Those two moral worldviews in general contradict each other. How can they reside in the same brain at the same time?

Both are characterized in the brain by neural circuitry. They are linked by a commonplace circuit: mutual inhibition. When one is turned on the other is turned off; when one is strengthened, the other is weakened. What turns them on or off? Language that fits that worldview activates that worldview, strengthening it, while turning off the other worldview and weakening it. The more Trumps views are discussed in the media, the more they are activated and the stronger they get, both in the minds of hardcore conservatives and in the minds of moderate progressives.

This is true even if you are attacking TrumpҒs views. The reason is that negating a frame activates that frame, as I pointed out in the book Dont Think of an Elephant! It doesnҒt matter if you are promoting Trump or attacking Trump, you are helping Trump.

A good example of Trump winning with progressive biconceptuals includes certain unionized workers. Many union members are strict fathers at home or in their private life. They believe in traditional family valuesӔ a conservative code word ח and they may identify with winners.

Why Has Trump won the Republican nomination? Look at all the conservative groups he appeals to!

Why His Lack of Policy Detail Doesnt Matter

I recently heard a brilliant and articulate Clinton surrogate argue against a group of Trump supporters that Trump has presented no policy plans for increasing jobs, increasing economics growth, improving education, gaining international respect, etc. This is the basic Clinton campaign argument. Hillary has the experience, the policy know-how, she can get things done, itҒs all on her website. Trump has none of this. What Hillarys campaign says is true. And it is irrelevant.

Trump supporters and other radical Republican extremists could not care less, and for a good reason. Their job is to impose their view of strict father morality in all areas of life. If they have the Congress, and the Presidency and the Supreme Court, they could achieve this. They donҒt need to name policies, because the Republicans already of hundreds of policies ready to go. They just need to be in complete power.

How Trump Uses Your Brain to His Advantage

Any unscrupulous, effective salesman knows how to use you brain against you, to get you to buy what he is selling. How can someone use your brain against you?Ӕ What does it mean?

All thought uses neural circuitry. Every idea is constituted by neural circuitry. But we have no conscious access to that circuitry. As a result, most of thought an estimated 98 percent of thought is unconscious. Conscious thought is the tip of the iceberg.

Unconscious thought works by certain basic mechanisms. Trump uses them instinctively to turn peopleגs brains toward what he wants: Absolute authority, money, power, celebrity.

The mechanisms are:

1. Repetition. Words ore neurally linked to the circuits the determine their meaning. The more a word is heard, the more the circuit is activated and the stronger it gets, and so the easier it is to fire again. Trump repeats. Win. Win, Win. Were gonna win so much youҒll get tired of winning.

2. Framing: Crooked Hillary. Framing Hillary as purposely and knowingly committing crimes for her own benefit, which is what a crook does. Repeating makes many people unconsciously think of her that way, even though she has been found to have been honest and legal by thorough studies by the right-wing Bengazi committee (which found nothing) and the FBI (which found nothing to charge her with, except missing the mark (C)ђ in the body of 3 out of 110,000 emails). Yet the framing is working.

There is a common metaphor that Immorality Is Illegality, and that acting against Strict Father Morality (the only kind off morality recognized) is being immoral. Since virtually everything Hillary Clinton has ever done has violated Strict Father Morality, that makes her immoral. The metaphor thus makes her actions immoral, and hence she is a crook. The chant Lock her up!Ӕ activates this whole line of reasoning.

3. Well-known examples: When a well-publicized disaster happens, the coverage activates the framing of it over and over, strengthening it, and increasing the probability that the framing will occur easily with high probability. Repeating examples of shootings by Muslims, African-Americans, and Latinos raises fears that it could happen to you and your community despite the miniscule actual probability. Trump uses this to create fear. Fear tends to activate desire for a strong strict father ח namely, Trump.

4. Grammar: Radical Islamic terrorists: RadicalӔ puts Muslims on a linear scale and terroristsӔ imposes a frame on the scale, suggesting that terrorism is built into the religion itself. The grammar suggests that there is something about Islam that has terrorism inherent in it. Imagine calling the Charleston gunman a radical Republican terrorist.Ӕ

Trump is aware this to at least some extent. As he said to Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer who wrote The Art of the Deal for him, I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration and itגs a very effective form of promotion.

5. Conventional metaphorical thought is inherent in our largely unconscious thought. Such normal modes of metaphorical thinking that are not noticed as such.

Consider Brexit, which used the metaphor of “entering” and “leaving” the EU. There is a universal metaphor that states are locations in space: you can enter a state, be deep in some state, and come out that state. If you enter a cafe and then leave the cafe, you will be in the same location as before you entered. But that need not be true of states of being. But that was the metaphor used with Brexist; Britons believe that after leaving the EU, things would be as before when the entered the EU. They were wrong. Things changed radically while they were in the EU. That same metaphor is being used by Trump: Make America Great Again. Make America Safe Again. And so on. As if there was some past ideal state that we can go back to just by electing Trump.

6. There is also a metaphor that A Country Is a Person and a metonymy of the President Standing For the Country. Thus, Obama, via both metaphor and metonymy, can stand conceptually for America. Therefore, by saying that Obama is weak and not respected, it is communicated that America, with Obama as president, is weak and disrespected. The inference is that it is because of Obama.

7. The country as person metaphor and the metaphor that war or conflict between countries is a fistfight between people, leads the inference that just having a strong president will guarantee that America will win conflicts and wars. Trump will just throw knockout punches. In his acceptance speech at the convention, Trump repeatedly said that he would accomplish things that can only be done by the people acting with their government. After one such statement, there was a chant from the floor, He will do it.铔

8. The metaphor that The nation Is a Family was used throughout the GOP convention. We heard that strong military sons are produced by strong military fathers and that defense of country is a family affair.Ӕ From Trumps love of family and commitment to their success, we are to conclude that, as president he will love AmericaҒs citizens and be committed to the success of all.

9. There is a common metaphor that Identifying with your familys national heritage makes you a member of that nationality. Suppose your grandparents came from Italy and you identify with your Italian ancestors, you may proud state that you are Italian. The metaphor is natural. Literally, you have been American for two generations. Trump made use of this commonplace metaphor in attacking US District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is American, born and raised in the United States. Trump said he was a Mexican, and therefore would hate him and tend to rule against him in a case brought against Trump University for fraud.

10. Then there is the metaphor system used in the phrase “to call someone out.” First the word “out.” There is a general metaphor that Knowing Is Seeing as in “I see what you mean.” Things that are hidden inside something cannot be seen and hence not known, while things are not hidden but out in public can be seen and hence known. To “out someone” is to made their private knowledge public. To “call someone out” is to publicly name someone’s hidden misdeeds, thus allowing for public knowledge and appropriate consequences.

This is the basis for the Trumpian metaphor that Naming is Identifying. Thus naming your enemies will allow you to identify correctly who they are, get to them, and so allow you to defeat them. Hence, just saying radical Islamic terroristsӔ allows you to pick them out, get at them, and annihilate them. And conversely, if you dont say it, you wonҒt be able to pick them out and annihilate them. Thus a failure to use those words means that you are protecting those enemies in this case Muslims, that is, potential terrorists because of their religion.

Iגll stop here, though I could go on. Here are ten uses of peoples unconscious normal brain mechanisms that are manipulated by Trump and his followers for his overriding purpose: to be elected president, to be given absolute authority with a Congress and Supreme Court, and so to have his version of Strict Famer Morality govern America into the indefinite future.

These ten forms of using with peopleҒs everyday brain mechanisms for his own purposes have gotten Trump the Republican nomination. But millions more people have seen and heard Trump and company on tv and heard them on the radio. The media pundits have not described those ten mechanisms, or other brain mechanisms, that surreptitiously work on the unconscious minds of the public, even though the result is that Big Lies repeated over and over are being believed by a growing number of people.

Even if he loses the election, Trump will have changed the brains of millions of Americans, with future consequences. It is vitally important people know the mechanisms used to transmit Big Lies and to stick them into peoples brains without their awareness. It is a form of mind control.

People in the media have a duty to report it when the see it. But the media comes with constraints.

Certain things have not been allowed in public political discourse in the media. Reporters and commentators are supposed to stick to what is conscious and with literal meaning. But most real political discourse makes use of unconscious thought, which shapes conscious thought via unconscious framing and commonplace conceptual metaphors. It is crucial, for the history of the country and the world, as well as the planet, that all of this be made public.

And it is not just the media, Such responsibility rests with ordinary citizens who become aware of unconscious brain mechanisms like the ten we have just discussed. This responsibility also rests with the Democratic Party and their campaigns at all levels.

Is the use of the public’s brain mechanisms for communication necessarily immoral? Understanding how people really think can be used to communicate truths, not Big Lies or ads for products.

This knowledge is not just known to cognitive linguists. It is taught in Marketing courses in business schools, and the mechanisms are used in advertising, to get you to buy what advertisers are selling. We have learned to recognize ads; they are set off by themselves. Even manipulative corporate advertising with political intent (like ads for fracking) is not as dangerous as Big Lies leading to authoritarian government determining the future of our country.

How Can Democrats Do Better?

First, dont think of an elephant. Remember not to repeat false conservative claims and then rebut them with the facts. Instead, go positive. Give a positive truthful framing to undermine claims to the contrary. Use the facts to support positively-framed truth. Use repetition.

Second, start with values, not policies and facts and numbers. Say what you believe, but havenҒt been saying. For example, progressive thought is built on empathy, on citizens caring about other citizens and working through our government to provide public resources for all, both businesses and individuals. Use history. Thats how America started. The public resources used by businesses were not only roads and bridges, but public education, a national bank, a patent office, courts for business cases, interstate commerce support, and of course the criminal justice system. From the beginning, the Private Depended on Public Resources, both private lives and private enterprise.

Over time those resources have included sewers, water and electricity, research universities and research support: computer science (via the NSF), the internet (ARPA), pharmaceuticals and modern medicine (the NIH), satellite communication (NASA and NOA), and GPS systems and cell phones (the Defense Department). Private enterprise and private life utterly depend on public resources. Have you ever said this? Elizabeth Warren has. Almost no other public figures. And stop defending ғthe government. Talk about the public, the people, Americans, the American people, public servants, and good government. And take back freedom. Public resources provide for freedom in private enterprise and private life.

The conservatives are committed to privatizing just about everything and to eliminating funding for most public resources. The contribution of public resources to our freedoms cannot be overstated. Start saying it.

And don’t forget the police. Effective respectful policing is a public resource. Chief David O. Brown of the Dallas Police got it right. Training, community policing, knowing the people you protect. And dont ask too much of the police: citizens have a responsibility to provide funding so that police don’t have to do jobs that should be done by others.

Unions need to go on the offensive. Unions are instruments of freedom freedom from corporate servitude. Employers call themselves job creators. Working people are profit creators for the employers, and as such they deserve a fair share of the profits and respect and acknowledgement. Say it. Can the public create jobs. Of course. Fixing infrastructure will create jobs by providing more public resources that private lives and businesses depend on. Public resources to create more public resources. Freedom creates opportunity that creates more freedom.

Third, keep out of nasty exchanges and attacks. Keep out of shouting matches. One can speak powerfully without shouting. Obama sets the pace: Civility, values, positivity, good humor, and real empathy are powerful. Calmness and empathy in the face of fury are powerful. Bill Clinton won because he oozed empathy, with his voice, his eye contact, and his body. It wasnגt his superb ability as a policy wonk, but the empathy he projected and inspired.

Values come first, facts and policies follow in the service of values. They matter, but they always support values.

Give up identity politics. No more womens issues, black issues, Latino issues. Their issues are all real, and need public discussion. But they all fall under freedom issues, human issues. And address poor whites! Appalachian and rust belt whites deserve your attention as much as anyone else. DonҒt surrender their fate to Trump, who will just increase their suffering.

And remember JFKs immortal, ғAsk not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. Empathy, devotion, love, pride in our countryԒs values, public resources to create freedoms. And adulthood.

Be prepared. You have to understand Trump to stand calmly up to him and those running with him all over the country.

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Posted by Elvis on 07/25/16 •
Section Dying America
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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Lopsided Political Dialogue With the Working Class

image: dying america

As for its own citizens, there is a theory (developed with the active participation of the White House) of the golden billion, referring to the only people who should live prosperously on the planet, while the rest of population are disregarded by the current authorities and a license for their starvation was issued a long time ago. Therein lies the secret of American democracy.
- Holodomor in the Unuted States

Once corporate executives realized that they could earn multi-million dollar performance bonuses by moving US jobs abroad and once they were threatened by Wall Street and shareholder advocates with takeovers if they did not, American capitalism began giving the US economy to other countries, mainly located in Asia. As high productivity manufacturing and professional service jobs (such as software engineering) moved offshore, US incomes stagnated and fell.

As real income growth stagnated, wives entered the work force to compensate. Children were educated by refinancing the home mortgage and using the equity in the family home or with student loans that they do not earn enough to repay. Since the December 2007 downturn, Americans have used up their coping mechanisms. Homes have been refinanced. IRAs raided. Savings drawn down. Grown children, now adults, are back home with parents. The falling labor force participation rate signals that the economy can no longer provide jobs for the workforce. In such a situation, economic recovery is impossible.
- Missing Economic Recovery

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By Tamara Draut
Bill Moyers
July 22, 2016

Thursday night, Trump spent considerable air time speaking (more like yelling) about how Americas steel and coal workers have been ignored and sold-out for decades by both political parties. He promised to bring back those long-disappearing jobs and to put their needs front and center in his administration. As the daughter of a steel worker, I admit it was nice to finally hear someone talk about how the old industrial working class was robbed of their dignity and livelihood, with LITTLE REGARD for the devastation left behind.

But that working class the blue-collar, hard-hat, mostly male archetype of the great post-war prosperity - is long gone. IN ITS PLACE is a new working class whose jobs are in the now massive sectors of our serving and caring economy. And so far, neither Trump nor Clinton have talked about this new working class, which is much more female and racially diverse than the one of my dads generation. With Trump’s racially charged and nativistic rhetoric, hes offering red meat to a group of Americans who have every right to be angry - but not at the villains Trump has served up.

The decades-long destruction of American manufacturing profoundly changed the working class neighborhoods, jobs and families. What had once been nearly universal, guaranteed well-paying jobs for young men fresh from high school graduation were yanked overseas with little regard for the devastation left behind.

To add insult to injury, the loss of manufacturing jobs was often heralded as a sign of progress. As the economic contribution of these former working-class heroes to our nation dwindled and the technology revolution sizzled, in many people’s minds, millions of men became zeroes. They seemed to be a dusty anachronism in a sparkling new economy.

Black men, who had fought for decades for their right to these well-paying jobs, watched them evaporate just as they were finally admitted to competitive apprenticeships and added to seniority lists. When capital fled for Mexico or China, the shuttered factories in Americas biggest cities left a giant vacuum in their wake, decimating a primary source of jobs for black men that would never be replaced.

The economic vacuum would be filled with a burgeoning underground economy in the drug trade, which was met with a militarized WAR ON DRUGS rather than an economic development plan. That war continues today - the scaffolding upon which our prison industrial complex is built and the firmament upholding the police brutality and oppression in black communities that result in far too many unarmed black men being shot and killed by police.

As for the once privileged, white working-class man, the dignity and sense of self-worth that came with a union contract and the trappings of middle-class life are sorely missed and their absence bitterly resented. In the absence of real commitments from either political party to promote high-quality job creation for workers without college degrees, conservative talk-radios echo chamber and the rhetoric of far-right conservative politicians have concocted a story about who is winning (and taking from government) in this post-industrial economy: African-Americans and immigrants.

These are the contours shaping our nation’s political debate.

Donald Trump has hitched his presidential wagon to the pain of the white working class, though far more rhetorically than substantively. With his anti-immigrant pledge to build a wallӔ and his unicorn promises to rip up trade agreements and bring manufacturing jobs back to our shores, Trump promises to make the white working class winnersӔ again.

But the sad reality is that his campaign represents nothing more than yet another cynical political ploy to tap the racial anxiety and economic despair felt by white working-class men. It is a salve to soothe with no real medicine for healing the underlying wound.

Trump, and the Republican Party more broadly, offer no solutions or even promises to address the grave economic insecurity of the broader working class today, whose jobs are MORE LIKELY to be in fast food, retail, home health care and janitorial services than on an assembly line. Unlike their predecessors, today’s working class toils in a labor market where disrespect - in the form of low wages, erratic schedules, zero or few SICK DAYS and arbitrary discipline is ubiquitous. Gone are the unions and workplace protections that created a blue-collar middle class - the best descriptor for my own family background. Todays working class punch the clock in a country with the largest percentage of low-paid workers among advanced nations, with the paychecks of African-Americans and immigrants plunging even further, particularly among women.

Thanks to the brave action and demands of movements like Fight for $15, United We Dream and Black Lives Matter, the Democratic Party is finally offering a robust official platform to improve the lives of today’s working class, not the one of my fathers generation. After decades in which working-class plight went largely overlooked by the Democrats in favor of a more centrist, pro-business stance, the party’s progressive economic shift should claim broad support among the new working class. As noted in my book, Sleeping Giant, unlike a generation ago, todays working class is multiracial and much more female - more than one-third of todays working class are people of color. Nearly half (47 percent) of today’s young working class, those aged 25-34, are not white people. And two-thirds of non-college educated women are in the paid labor force, up from about half in 1980.

The Democratic Party, both through its platform and its candidate, supports higher wages, paid sick days, affordable child care, college without debt and reifying the right to a union. With a platform more progressive than any in recent history, especially on economic and racial justice issues, there should be no doubt that the Democratic Party is the champion of the working class, at least on the merits. But most people dont read party platforms or study policy positions. Instead, they listen and watch, waiting for cues that a candidate “gets them” and is actually talking to them.

For despite the platform language and Hillary Clinton’s stated positions, the Democratic Party hasn’t been talking to the working class. The words “working class” seem all but erased from the Democratic lexicon - in its speeches, ads and on its social media. The partys language still clings to vague notions of “working people” or “hard-working Americans” or the false notion of a ubiquitous “middle class.” It may well be that the party has bought the political spin that “working class” is code for ”WHITE AND MALE” but actually, its people of color who are much more likely to consider themselves working class. And as the party of racial and social justice, Democrats are missing a big opportunity to sell its economic platform to this new working class.

The General Social Survey, a long-running public opinion survey, found in 2014 that 46 percent of respondents identified themselves as working class compared to 42 percent who identify as middle class. Black and Latino individuals were much more likely than whites to identify as working class. Six out of 10 Latinos and 56 percent of blacks consider themselves working class, compared to just 42 percent of whites. In fact, in every year since the early 1970s, the percentage of Americans who identify as working class has ranged between 44 and 50 percent. Interestingly, younger people are also more likely to consider themselves working class, with 55 percent of 18-29 year olds identifying as working class compared to 36 percent who identify as middle class.

Yet Trump has won the rhetorical war for the working class - despite his pitch being narrowly tailored to disaffected white men. There is no doubt in my mind that the Democratic Party is the party of the working class - white, black and brown - at least substantively. But by failing to explicitly use the term “working class,” the party risks not being heard by the very voters who have the most at stake in this election.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 07/24/16 •
Section Dying America
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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Religion And The Brain

image: God

Neural Markers of Religious Conviction

By Michael Inzlicht, Ian McGregor, Jacob B. Hirsh and Kyle Nash
University Of Toronto and York University
March, 2009

Many people derive peace of mind and purpose in life from their belief in God. For others, however, religion provides UNSATISFYING ANSWERS. Are there brain differences between believers and nonbelievers? Here we show that religious conviction is marked by reduced reactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a cortical system that is involved in the experience of anxiety and is important for self-regulation.

In two studies, we recorded electroencephalographic neural reactivity in the ACC as participants completed a Stroop task. Results showed that stronger religious zeal and greater belief in God were associated with less firing of the ACC in response to error and with commission of fewer errors. These correlations remained strong even after we controlled for personality and cognitive ability. These results suggest that religious conviction provides a framework for understanding and acting within one’s environment, thereby acting as a buffer against anxiety and minimizing the experience of error.

SOURCE

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Researchers find brain differences between believers and non-believers

Believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress, according to new University of Toronto research that shows distinct brain differences between believers and non-believers

University of Toronto
March 4, 2009

Believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress, according to new University of Toronto research that shows distinct brain differences between believers and non-believers.

In two studies led by Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, participants performed a Stroop task - a well-known test of cognitive control - while hooked up to electrodes that measured their brain activity.

Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

“You could think of this part of the brain like a cortical alarm bell that rings when an individual has just made a mistake or experiences uncertainty,” says lead author Inzlicht, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They’re much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error.”

These correlations remained strong even after controlling for personality and cognitive ability, says Inzlicht, who also found that religious participants made fewer errors on the Stroop task than their non-believing counterparts.

Their findings show religious belief has a calming effect on its devotees, which makes them less likely to feel anxious about making errors or facing the unknown. But Inzlicht cautions that anxiety is a “double-edged sword” which is at times necessary and helpful.

“Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you’re paralyzed with fear,” he says. “However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we’re making mistakes. If you don’t experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don’t make the same mistakes again and again?”

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Posted by Elvis on 07/10/16 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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